Since March 11, like many families around the world, my family of five has been staying home to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. We live in Denmark and last week Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen announced that much of the country would close.
We were surprised but prepared. As the number of Danish cases began to rise and restrictions and cancellations piled up for large events and gatherings, we began to realize that we might be stuck at home for a few weeks, and stocked up on basic food, cleaning and health supplies.
The school principal sent an email encouraging the kids to use their time at home to try new things and have fun with their parents. "Maybe you could learn to knit, or do a handstand," she said. She also stressed that the school isn't closed, it's virtual. Children are expected to stay in touch with their teachers and continue their education online via their school-issued laptops and iPads.
But even with those checklists from school at our disposal, my husband and I still have jobs to do. He's an academic researcher and I'm a freelance writer. I have been working from home for 12 years, but my children have always been in full-time day care and school during that time. Almost all Danish children begin public day care when they turn 1; our kids are now 4, 6, and 10.
Our "workplaces" never close, and doing analysis or writing a press release gets a bit more tricky when someone asks you for a juice box every three minutes. So to keep us and our kids on track, I decided to create a structured plan for 17 days or more at home with my family.
Even though our reason for staying home is serious, authorities have even encouraged us to practice "hygge," a Danish word that describes the comfortable and cozy practice of being together in small groups.
But "cozy" and "productive" aren't mutually exclusive. Here are the steps we're taking to stay focused while working at home with kids.
Start each morning with a family meeting. Go over what is going to happen that day and get input from the kids on what they want to do and accomplish.
Get dressed. Don't walk around in your pajamas, and don't let your kids do it either. If you're going to be stuck home for a while, you need to establish a routine that defines day and night.
Make a schedule. Most kids crave structure and routine. Even if you don't have anything specific to do, provide structure for your family in the form of a loose schedule that you can follow throughout the day. To stay on track, give each kid a checklist that they must get done by the end of the day. Include meals, fun, homework, exercise, and entertainment.
Here's an example of what our family schedule looks like each day.
8:00 - Rise and shine! Get dressed, eat breakfast together, and brush your teeth.
9:00 - School starts! Practice your violin for 30 minutes. Mom is working, so don't disturb!
9:30 - School work. Choose something from your checklist to do.
10:30 - Family tea time. Sit at the table and have a snack and a cup of tea with the family.
11:00 - School work. Choose something from your checklist to do.
12:00 - Meet at the table for a family lunch.
12:30 - Recess! Go outside and play in the yard. Dad is working, so don't disturb!
1:00 - School work. Start finishing up that checklist.
3:00 - School's out. Screens allowed for 1 hour. After, free play.
5:30 - Dinner.
Take shifts. If you have more than one caregiver working at home, divide up your time into shifts, and write down who is on call when. That way there isn't any disagreement over who isn't working enough. After all, adults like routines, too. The lengths of these shifts probably vary based on what type of work you do. For my husband and me, they are each two hours long.
Create a work area that the kids can't access. I'm lucky enough to have a home office. If the door is shut, the kids know not to come in. If you don't have that luxury, create an area in your bedroom, basement, or storage area that is set apart. This will provide a barrier between your personal and professional life and help you be more efficient in your work.
If you have outdoor access, use it. Play in the backyard, go for a walk in the woods, or take a bike ride. Just remember to follow the advice of local authorities.
The schedule has been working so far, and the kids are happy and healthy. We realize that this is a time where we must protect the "we," not only the "me." Following the rules in place and working to maintain a sense of normalcy helps us make the most of a period of uncertainty.
Stephanie Bergeron Kinch is a freelance journalist based in Copenhagen, Denmark. For more information about her work, visit www.pearlcity.dk.
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